Mission Impossible Meets Ground Hog Day
Source Code is an engaging science-fiction action thriller that tells the story of Coulter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal), an army helicopter pilot that finds himself, through no action of his own, participating in a military mission in which he repeatedly relives the final eight minutes of a doomed Chicago commuter train. The story is thoughtful and the characters empathetic. Buying into the plot requires some undeniable suspension of disbelief. But if you’re willing to do that, the story really delivers.
Amid confusion, Coulter regains consciousness as a passenger on a Chicago-bound commuter train. An unknown woman, Christina Warren (Michelle Monaghan), converses with him as if they’re friends, although she uses a strange name. Before long he’s confronted with the fact that he has somebody else’s identification and, stranger still, his reflection does not show his own image. Just as he’s trying to wrap his head around the situation, the train explodes.
In his next moments of consciousness, he finds himself in a capsule-like compartment. He begins communicating with an unknown military woman via video link; somebody he eventually remembers to be named Goodwin (Vera Farmiga). Through bits and pieces, Coulter learns that he is participating in a military project that uses a new technology called “the source code.” The technology enables a participant to relive the final eight minutes of a recently deceased individual. Moreover, the reliving is not limited to passive observation. Rather, the experience is more along the lines of an alternate reality in which Coulter and the other people in the eight-minute sequences can alter their actions.
Pretty remarkable technology, huh? There are a few exchanges in the movie where the writers try to provide some degree of explanation. Of course, if you’re looking for something that’s going to satisfy the scientific-method part of your brain, you’re probably setting yourself up for a let down. At one point, Dr. Rutledge – the apparent inventor of the technology – dismisses Coulter’s queries by mumbling: “Quantum mechanics. Parabolic calculus. It’s all very complicated.” In other words, just go with it.
As the story progresses, Coulter learns that the train exploded as the result of a terrorist attack. Furthermore, the person or people responsible for the attack are likely carrying out a subsequent, more deadly, attack imminently. Coulter’s job is to identify the bomber of the train such that the the subsequent attack can be prevented.
Coulter is a reluctant participant at best. He has little to no recollection as to how he came to be associated with the project. Furthermore, some of his experiences during the repeated reliving of the train sequence yield some disturbing information that suggests Goodwin and Rutledge are not being completely honest with him.
In a parallel development, the multiple sequences of repeated intensity followed by certain death cause Coulter to start to develop feelings for Christina – the friend of the person whose body Coulter inhabits during the parallel realities. Does Coulter find the bomber? Does he prevent the subsequent attack? What are Goodwin and Rutledge hiding from him? What’s to come of these feelings that Coulter has for a woman that’s already dead? The movie does a pretty good job of answering all of these questions. But, for the most part, it’s just a fun ride.